When the Edmonton Oilers won the NHL Draft Lottery in late April, it was like watching someone without a driver’s license get handed the keys to a new Rolls Royce. The Oilers have already had their chance to pick first overall — four times in the last six years, in fact — and they haven’t exactly made the most of their opportunities. Now they get to select Connor McDavid, an 18-year-old generational talent that the hockey community has been buzzing about for years. Sometimes life isn’t fair.
So we already know who the first pick will be when the NHL Draft takes place on Friday night. And we already know the Buffalo Sabres are taking Boston University center Jack Eichel with the second pick. It’s not normal for the top two selections to be locked in like this ahead of time. But this is not a normal draft, by any means.
In fact, it’s supposed to be one of the more loaded crops of talent in recent memory. And the team picking No. 3 overall essentially controls the rest of the draft. That team, of course, is the Arizona Coyotes, who suddenly have plenty of options in front of them. What they decide to do when the real drama kicks in will essentially set the tone for everyone else. So here’s a quick look at five of the main choices they could make …
Option A: Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters (OHL)
This could be the Coyotes’ guy: a 6-foot-3 center who won the OHL scoring title with 129 points in 68 games. Not bad, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Strome’s a player that a lot of teams want (i.e. Toronto, at pick No. 4) and it’s easy to see why. Big pivots aren’t exactly easy to find and he’s shown a lot of offensive prowess in arguably the top junior league around. He may not be a once-in-a-lifetime sort of pick, but he’d certainly be in the mix to go first overall in a normal year. And Arizona could use a scoring jolt up the middle of the ice.
Detractors question if Strome is an elite skater and worry that his numbers might be inflated by playing alongside McDavid. But he clearly has the hockey sense to find the open spots on the ice and quickly do damage. And he managed to survive when McDavid missed 21 games this season, notching 18 goals and 17 assists in his absence.
Considering his upside, and how he could potentially fit into a young core of future scorers that already includes Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Christian Dvorak and Brendan Perlini, it might be tough to pass on Strome.
Option B: Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College (Hockey East)
If you’re looking for defense, Hanifin is your likely top choice. Slotted behind only McDavid and Eichel in Central Scouting’s overall rankings, he’s a slick-skating, two-way blueliner who can control the tempo of the game and help trigger the offense with his puck moving skills. Plenty of teams have shown interest in trying to trade for the No. 3 pick, and most of them are likely looking to scoop up Hanifin.
From the Coyotes’ perspective, scoring is obviously a must. But the next wave of talent coming through the system is predominantly made up of forwards already. In fact, Arizona’s last three first-round selections (Perlini, Domi and Henrik Samuelsson) all play up front, so a case could be made for adding more help in the back end. Then again, the Desert Dogs already have a lot of young defenders — particularly left-handed defenders — breaking in at the NHL level.
Option C: Mitch Marner, W/C, London Knights (OHL)
Marner brings a lot of offensive upside, even drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane and Claude Giroux. And he actually led the OHL scoring race all the way down to the final day of the season, when Strome erupted for six points to pass him.
The knock on Marner is his size (generously listed at 5-foot-11), though teams like Tampa Bay have shown that the right blend of speed and skill can more than make up for that. And he’s played center before, but he likely projects to a winger at the NHL level.
If the Coyotes go with a forward here, Strome seems to have a slight edge over Marner. It is worth noting, however, that Marner played his junior hockey in London, alongside both Domi and Dvorak.
Option D: Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Provorov is clearly the dark horse of this group, simply because Hanifin has been the top-rated D-man in this class for months now and he’ll be available. But Provorov is climbing a lot of draft boards in a hurry, as an aggressive two-way defender who seems poised to make an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. If Arizona ends up trading down a couple slots, he could make a lot of sense.
Option E: Trade the Pick
This option didn’t seem to have much momentum until earlier this week, when the general managers met in Las Vegas before the NHL Awards show. And then the rumors really began to fly. Remember when I said the Coyotes basically control this draft? Well, this is where that comes into play. A lot of clubs want Hanifin, and that likely means they need to make a trade with Arizona to move to the top of the non-McDavid-or-Eichel portion of the draft. And anyone that has their sights set on Strome basically needs to do the same.
Coming out of the meetings on Tuesday, there were reports that quite a few clubs had at least kicked the tires to see what it would take to pry that No. 3 pick away from Arizona. And GM Don Maloney wisely has no interest in parting with it for anything less than a king’s ransom.
Still, there were teams offering their own first-rounder plus a quality prospect or two and other teams that indicated they might be willing to give up a good, young current NHLer who could help the Desert Dogs right away.
That’s the power that this pick affords the Coyotes — it gives them options. And it doesn’t hurt that they currently hold three of the top 32 picks and six of the top 81 overall this weekend. That’s even more flexibility to work with in what should be a pretty pivotal few days for the franchise.